Behind every successful law firm holds a strategically recruited team of attorneys and staff members. Have you had a moment to check out the North Carolina Criminal Defense Team of Masterminds yet at McCartan Law? Well if you haven't yet, here is our gift to you.
The man, the myth, the legend who started it all, Chris McCartan. Chris McCartan grew up in Buffalo, New York, and has lived in Concord since 2002. As the child of a single mother, he learned the values of hard work and responsibility from one of the most incredible women in the world.
A graduate of Syracuse University, Chris received his Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and his Master’s Degree in Public Administration. He was also fortunate to leave SU as a National Champion, Captain, and three-year starter of the Orange lacrosse team. Chris went on to receive his law degree from the University of Buffalo.
Chris moved to North Carolina and practiced with his mentor and partner, Bill Powers, from 2002 to 2017. He practices criminal defense almost exclusively, with a particular focus on Driving While Impaired (DWI), domestic crimes, and drug-related offenses.
Throughout his 15-year legal career, Mr. McCartan has been committed to three things: preparedness, creativity, and empathy. With respect to the first two, “a good attorney knows to have all required tools in his bag when he walks into the court house; a great attorney does innovative and clever things with those tools.” Chris feels the third prong of his representation is the most important: understanding his clients’ positions in the circumstances they’re facing. “As defense attorneys, we represent a lot of great people accused of some less-than-flattering things. Whether guilty, innocent, or somewhere in the middle, zealous representation starts with understanding what lies behind the name and case number attached to the client.”
Away from the office, Chris is married to Michelle, a Cabarrus County School Teacher, and they have two children: Brodie and Sally. Chris was a two-term Chairman of the Cabarrus County Republican Party, and was also a member of the Party’s Board At-Large prior to being elected. He is Co-President of Carolina Miners Lacrosse, a youth lacrosse organization based in Cabarrus County, a Habitat for Humanity Board Member, and swims with the Sailfish Masters.
Check back in with us next week to meet our other North Carolina Criminal Defense Attorney mastermind at McCartan Law, Courtney Neal.
Mandatory Minimum Sentences in North Carolina : a DWI snippet, and a lot about Drugs
I've recently seen an uptick with respect to clients charged with offenses carrying mandatory minimum sentences. And, sure: structured sentencing in North Carolina has provided substantial jail time for certain high-level felonies and repeat offenders since the mid-90s. But nuances in the law mandate some misdemeanants and first-time lower-level felons serve long, compulsory prison terms that’s application can be appropriate, but at other times draconian.
Let’s talk first about an offense treated as a Misdemeanor in North Carolina that can bring mandatory terms of imprisonment: Driving While Impaired (and, yes: this includes DUI, OUI, OWI, Drunk Driving, and all other variations that are used from state to state). I bring this up first because it will always be one of the hot-button social and political issues in American jurisprudence… and understandably so. Its offenders come from all demographics, its enforcement requires substantial police resources, and most important, there are often victims of the crime who will never be the same. Our legislature has consistently placed an emphasis on greater enforcement of DWI and has received the support of our higher Courts in most circumstances over the last 30-years.
The most recent substantial change in North Carolina DWI/DUI statutory law is the imposition of a new level of sentencing: Aggravated Level I. I’ll provide a more detailed explanation as to the different levels of Impaired Driving in a different medium, but long and short: Agg1 requires, after conviction, the State proving at least three Grossly Aggravating Factors (prior DWI within the last seven years, being Revoked at the time of the current offense for a prior DWI-related issue, having a child or handicapped person in the vehicle, or causing a substantial bodily injury). This is a complete gamechanger when it comes to the effect on an offender’s life, as it takes the minimum required sentence of 30-days active to 120-days incarceration as a term of probation. And, remember: this is the minimum. A judge has the discretion to sentence a defendant to up to three-years… without the protection of Fair Sentencing (which other DWI/DUI offenders are sentenced under).
Here’s where I get to be a citizen/husband/father at the same time that I’m a North Carolina criminal defense attorney: I understand the legislature’s and law-enforcement’s concerns. At the end of the day, if a. guilt of the offense of DWI /DUI is proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and b. a minimum of three GAFs are properly proven, increased punishments are probably appropriate. This is why it is imperative, however, to explore ALL defenses as to the elements of the offense AND the sentencing enhancements in every charge. Being accused of Impaired Driving does NOT make you guilty. And being guilty of DWI/DUI does NOT allow you to be taken advantage of by the system during sentencing. Determine what the State can prove, go to trial or plead accordingly, and make sure you’re advocated for after disposition.
Now we’ll discuss the other area of Mandatory Minimum culture that’s moved the needle recently… and that, as criminal defense attorney and as a citizen, I believe there to be a monster disparity as to appropriate enforcement: Trafficking of Controlled Substances.
Already, I feel the eye-roll from readers as to any sympathy I give to those accused with trafficking. This starts with the semantic connotation, as the very word conjures up images of ‘El Chapo’ and Pablo Escobar moving boatloads of cocaine onto American streets. In North Carolina, however, the manner of possession, requisite weight, and variation of the drug bring the pool of accused into the status quo.
We’ll go in order.
First, the manner of possession to make someone guilty of trafficking does NOT require a sale. It doesn’t require transport. It doesn’t require disposition. Hell: it doesn’t even require another person. The only thing necessary to be accused of trafficking from an elemental standpoint is the actual possession of an illegal controlled substance if the other elements are satisfied.
Next, the requisite weight of any controlled substance to allow one to be charged with trafficking is not what most think. For example, a charge of Cocaine trafficking requires possession of ONE ounce. Opiates/heroin: four GRAMS. I won’t be coy; there are many times that possession of these types and quantities of drugs is objectively criminal. But further analysis of the plethora of fact patterns possible will show how this can become inequitable and unjust.
Lastly, and dovetailing from the last paragraph, “controlled substances” does NOT mean “street drugs.” For statutory purposes, the law only considers whether the substance was lawfully possessed and whether it is on a schedule designated by our legislature under NCGS 90-95.
So, how’d we get here? And I don’t mean that question as completely cynical of government, because as I alluded to above, there are times that large amounts of drugs are criminal. But of the many things contributing to the designation and enforcement of trafficking offenses, we need to look back to the mid-1980s and the “War on Drugs.” By the way, I’m a big Reagan fan and am certainly not besmirching the motivation of his administration on this point. It was just a different time. Cocaine was big; black-tar heroin was growing; overdoses and drug-related homicides were spiking. As ‘Just Say No’ became the mantra of the day and laws became stricter, creative criminal defense attorneys began to argue that the amounts of controlled substances allocated to their clients should be downgraded because in transit from one dealer to the next, the purity of the actual drug was a fraction of the whole he or she was caught with. Mad respect to those lawyers and their advocacy, by the way. But from the “you can’t fight city hall” playbook, our federal and state legislatures stepped in and invoked the notion of “aggregate weight.” Effectively, a kilogram of cocaine testing 30% actual cocaine / 70% baking soda would statutorily be considered a kilo for criminal liability purposes. Frankly, I get it; we’d be hard-pressed to give the benefit of impurity to a truly-guilty dealer who was going to get the benefit of the weight if never arrested. BUT, these laws – that remain either unchanged or enhanced – never envisioned the opiate culture of 2019.
Three accused individuals; three sentences. You play the match game:
Defendant A is a Vietnam vet who is prescribed Percocet by the VA for his service-related injuries. He is disabled and single, and to keep the lights on and buy groceries, he forsakes his own pain and sells 8 tablets to a neighbor.
Defendant B has been convicted of multiple prior offenses – including felonies – and sells 25-grams of cocaine and 5-pounds of marijuana to an 18-year old high school senior for a party in the fields… that 40-year old B attends. B also has a mustache.
Defendant C has severe arthritis and a congenital spine disease. Her conditions manifest in waves; she has average months and really bad weeks. Knowing her own ebb and flows, she refills her prescription for hydrocodone whenever eligible… despite not using all during times when her symptoms are manageable. After pulled over for speeding, an officer finds a prescription bottle denoted for 10 tablets but that contains 25 that she has saved.
All are convicted of a crime. One is sentenced to a minimum of 90-months in prison; another 70-months; the remaining offender gets probation. Who gets what?
Clearly, this is an example for effect, and there will always be odd subtleties in the law that don’t make a ton of sense. But it does make for a scary proposition; that people we can all identify with who’ve never been charged with another crime can have their liberty taken because of some laws that may be enforced inequitably.
Here’s where I get to make some lemonade out of these lemons as a believer in our system of criminal defense, procedure, and justice. Even if charged with one of the afore-referenced crimes with mandatory prison sentences upon conviction:
Thoughts? Questions? Hit me.